For Kelley, games like this usually gave her life. The drama, the yellow cards, the rally pulled off by eleven women that proved that maybe they weren’t human beings at all. These moments made her career, they validated the missed proms, and the family birthdays, and the many countless dates that she could have had with Ann, or someone else.
But this game, didn’t feel anything like the comeback they got in 2011 against Brazil. Then again, nothing about 2017 felt like 2011.
With her skin being a little more sun-kissed and ragged from the added years of training, and the absence of role models in camps and on the bench next to her, her and the team getting used to 2017 feeling like the year that was going to break them.
“Tournament of Nations. That’s a dumb fucking name.” Alex muttered under her breath.
“Just celebrate the fact that we won.” Christen said with a shrug to her shoulders as she put on her post-game suit with the USA crest which was starting to become a burden to wear.
Kelley just let Alex roll her eyes, and she just watched on in a daze with the sweat from the game just drying around the tired lines around her eyes. She didn’t rush her post game routine, because she just didn’t want to get on from the feeling of a win. It seemed like they weren’t going to have much of those these days, and there was also a nagging thought that she couldn’t identify in the back of her head.
It started from the moment she woke up. Alex said that it must have been because of their current frustrations with the current state of the team, but that explanation didn’t satisfy Kelley. She was used to that feeling, everyone was. Every little action today, every decision she made, she second guessed because she had the strange feeling that she had forgotten something. It was like when you leave your hotel room, and your subconscious is telling you that you forgot your phone, but your mind doesn’t actually alert you until reach into your pocket for it.
She had that weird, nagging feeling today. The dramatic win did nothing to assuage that feeling.
“Yo you gotta get your ass moving.” Pinoe said as she bopped Kelley in the back of the head. The defender looked around to see almost everyone ready to go, lingering around, just waiting for them to be carted back to the hotel.
“KOH, you smell.” Carli said with a smirk that was slow to come. Her captain’s words were enough to kick her out of her daze, she rushed to get ready.
“Good service KOH. All throughout the game.” Alyssa said with a small smile.
“Thanks, Lyss.” Kelley said half-heartedly as she pulled off the sweaty jersey. She stared intensely into her locker, not knowing what she could have said in return. There was no doubt that their inability to score was all on them, but the shakiness in the defense was all on Alyssa’s back and Kelley didn’t think it was the right time to address it.
Kelley was the last one to be ready. And mostly everyone was on the bus by the time she had picked up her bag to leave. The only one left was Carli.
“Why are you so out of it?” Carli asked without looking at her. The captain was slowly rolling up her socks.
“Tired, Car.” Kelley sighed. She put her backpack straps around her shoulder.
“You know what today is, right?” Carli said with a smirk.
“The day we almost just lost to Brazil at home.” Kelley joked back.
“True.” Carli threw back, grimly. “It’s uh. It’s Hope’s birthday.”
The captain didn’t even lift her head to see what kind of bomb she detonated in Kelley’s head. She just shouted over her shoulder, “Turn off the lights when you’re done.”
She most certainly was putting her career on the line. And for whom, she didn’t really know. Despite Christen and Mal’s best efforts to tuck her into bed at night, Kelley found herself wrapped in her oversize hoodie with the screen on her iPhone extra bright as she kept refreshing her mobile boarding pass. The status of her seat kept saying TO BE ASSIGNED, but take off time was two minutes ago, and she was just about ready to throw a fit.
The airport was empty, and she couldn’t see that this flight was full. She forced herself to sit after thirty minutes of furious pacing around the counter, hoping that her angry game face would pressure the lady at the desk to give her a seat.
She prayed to God that he just had a sense of humor and that she would get onto the only flight that would make it all possible.
She only unclenched her jaw when the lady at the desk waived to her with a new printed ticket in her hand.
Kelley could have kissed her then.
The rental SUV that Kelley had found last minute was struggling to run through these huge rocks that she quite honestly, wasn’t anticipating. She knew that her residence was out in the sticks, but the screeches on the side of the car and the scratches and dents these rocks were no doubtedly making on the side of the vehicle had to be forgotten and pushed into the back of her mind, problems to deal with later. She kept looking over at the brightened, silent screen of her phone in the front cup holder, and rolled her eyes at the many texts coming through.
So yeah, maybe I should have told more people what I was doing.
It was too late now.
When the tires finally hit some grass, and she could see the light coming off of a strangely expensive looking mobile home surrounded by wooden structures that had to have been built by strong arms, she took a breath.
Kelley stepped out of the car after she had silenced the engine. It was then that she become hyper aware of her appearance. She wasn’t exactly looking like a 10. After a three hour flight with no suitcase and just her wallet and phone to keep her company, she was starting to regret that she her hair was still in a bun, and the mint from the hotel toothpaste was starting to fade.
A motion detected light came on from the front of the mobile home, and Kelley stopped in her tracks at the powerful spotlight it shone. She was clouded in darkness, and now she felt like she had been caught.
She guarded her eyes hoping that it would hide her sudden embarrassment at the sound of the door opening. She tried to squint passed the light and stepped forward cautiously.
Kelley didn’t hear a voice, but she did find relief when the light got turned off. Kelley could see her faint figure standing in the doorway. Even in its faintness, it still had the power to make Kelley weak.
“What are you doing here?” Hope asked. It was curious. It wasn’t biting, it wasn’t in anger like their last few exchanges. It was genuine curiosity. The small defender found the strength to shuffle her feet forward and with the soft light in Hope’s home, she could see the woman a little bit more clearly.
“I just….”Kelley could see how different the woman before her looked. So much had changed.
“Wanted to see you.” Kelley managed to say.
“Oh.” Hope whispered. She moved her body like she was going to invite Kelley in, a rare move on Hope’s part.
“Hey babe, what’s up?” Jerramy’s voice rang out. Kelley died a little. Not that she was surprised at the sound of the voice, but she was surprised how much she still hated hearing it.
“Nothing.” Hope said while still looking at Kelley. “Kelley’s just here, visiting.”
Kelley braced herself when she heard his heavy footsteps approaching the both of them, and she kept the best smile she could muster when he had enthusiastically greeted her. She brushed off the questions of why she happened to be here when he had just seen her on the TV a few hours ago. She responded appropriately when he commented on Alyssa’s performance, a comment that made Hope shift uncomfortably, Kelley smiled when he praised her serves, and she even thanked him when he talked about how the team was still resilient, somehow.
Kelley managed to keep herself together even when he put his arm around Hope.
“Babe. We are going to catch up.” Hope said as she kissed his arm. “Are you going to turn in for the night?”
He nodded and graciously left the two after he had given Kelley a warm hug and said warmly, “I’m sure Hope is really glad that one of her teammates came to see her on her birthday.”
The defender didn’t move when the door had shut and Hope had wordlessly walked away. She didn’t know where Hope was going, and her head only piqued up when the former goalkeeper had opened the passenger side of her car and signaled Kelley to get in. She obeyed.
Her body started to cave into her heart when her face got hot when she noticed how Hope had left her arm hovering on the edge of the door and made Kelley duck to get in. She started to feel weak in the knees at the slow way Hope’s eyes traveled up her body and the even slower pace at which a smile found itself on Hope’s face. Kelley felt so warm in her body, her mind and her heart buzzing at the fact that she was just three feet away from the former goalkeeper, that she didn’t even question where Hope was taking her.
They drove in a comfortable silence for a few minutes, with Kelley leaning more and more over the console as the seconds ticked by. She was the first to speak.
“I miss you.”
Hope shot her a small smile before she gently pulled her car over. Kelley grabbed Hope’s hand, starting to feel a little more courageous. Her heart almost exploded at how beautifully their hands fit together. It hit her so much that she was starting to hyperventilate a little.
“You can relax.” Hope soothed, and she looked at Kelley with an affection that the defender didn’t think she would EVER see on the woman’s face again.
“I haven’t heard from you.” Kelley gulped.
“No one has.” Hope whispered.
“We’re sucking. Like we are legitimately hitting rock bottom.” She didn’t like that Hope didn’t refute that statement. Hope’s orders always came with such authority and her steadiness in between the goal posts made you question nothing. So when Hope Solo believed that the USWNT sucked, it started to sink in faster than if someone else had said it.
“You must be happy that you’re out of all of this mess.” Kelley said miserably. She looked up when she felt a tug on her hand, and the palm of Hope’s hand on her cheek. The defender closed her eyes and nuzzled into the warm touch.
“I would never wish for the worst on you guys. Never.” Hope whispered gently into the air. The affection was starting to become intoxicating, and Hope’s relaxed aura was starting to stir something in Kelley’s belly.
“Why haven’t I heard from you?” The defender asked desperately. Hope’s touch did not feel like somebody who was avoiding Kelley’s calls and texts. In fact, it seemed to be clamoring for Kelley’s soul.
“I want you to be happy.” Hope whispered into Kelley’s shoulder. She peppered a few kisses onto the cloth over her skin. They’ve had this conversation more times than Hope’s number of caps, and they’ve disagreed on what that meant for Kelley’s life more times than Kelley could count.
So she didn’t push the argument again. She would just appreciate the small amount of minutes that Hope was giving her.
“It’s like 5 am. You want coffee?” Hope finally broke the silence.
“You’re different.” Kelley said as she held onto Hope’s arm with one hand and sipped the coffee in her other. Hope smiled lazily and Kelley appreciated how much quicker that smile seemed to form than before.
“You’re skinnier.” Kelley teased.
“That’s because I’m actually starting to follow what Dawn has been telling me to eat. Now that I’m not playing. Who would’ve thought that’s what would make me listen to Dawn?” Hope joked back.
“I don’t think I’ve heard you joke since the World Cup.” Kelley said gently.
“Well… I feel a lot better. Healthier.” Hope said thoughtfully. She sipped on her own cup before she looked down at the woman cuddling up to her on their booth in her favorite coffee shop.
“It seems like it.” Kelley said, a sadness starting to creep in her voice. “Are you going to come back?”
The goalkeeper chuckled at that.
“I don’t mean to be selfish.” Kelley whispered. “I just think that I’ll die without you being there.”
Hope’s body stiffened.
“You won’t.” She reassured. And she said it such authority that Kelley was beginning to believe her again.
“I don’t want you to be with him.” Kelley whispered. She could feel this much stronger body of Hope pinning her gently into the side of the car and she could feel the morning sun gracing her cheeks, and she could feel the old desires and old doubts buzzing in her body.
Kelley couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief when she felt Hope’s hands find her breast underneath her hoodie, and when her tongue had drawn an intricate map on her neck that knew exactly where all the buttons on her body were. She found Hope’s eyes when the woman pulled away.
“I want you to be happy.” Hope said through heavy breaths and she wiped the little sweaty curls from Kelley’s face. Hope kissed her sweetly on the mouth and then on the eyelids, giving the other woman a time to speak.
“You left the team.” Kelley said quietly. “Don’t leave me, too.”
“That’s not fair.” Hope usually would have bit Kelley’s head off with that comment, but she just said it was a loving touch and a knowing smile. “I didn’t leave you guys. You guys dumped me.”
The taller woman wrapped her arms around Kelley so that her two hands interlaced behind the small of Kelley’s back and pulled her in closer so that her body could comfort Kelley.
“And you should know that I-” she put her lips around the edges of Kelley’s right ear, “could never leave you.”
“Then why do I never see you??” Kelley asked.
“You know where I am.” Hope gently reminded her. “You know what I’m doing.”
“Why didn’t’ you respond to my calls or texts?”
“I don’t have a phone anymore.” Hope said with disbelief that Kelley was asking her this question.
“Then-then- why are you still with him?” Kelley asked with sagged shoulders.
Hope bent down to give her a familiar kiss.
“Why were you still with Ann?”
“I’m not.” Kelley said quickly. “That ended.”
“Well, how come I didn’t know?” Hope asked with a tilt to her head.
“I guess because you still have that wedding band around your finger.” Kelley grabbed Hope’s finger that had the wedding band wrapped around it started to fidget with it. She hated that she didn’t buy it for the woman, but she had learned to put her resentment for Jerramy aside (for now). She could tell that Hope had found some inner peace with her firing, and she was sure that the man she was lying next to every night had something to do with it.
“Do you love him?” Kelley whispered.
“Yeah.” Hope whispered.
“Do you love me?”
“More than I could ever love somebody.”
That was enough for Kelley to completely surrender her body and let the woman do all she would want to in the back of Hope’s car. The embarrassment of her lack of a functional wardrobe misted away at Hope’s familiar and effective touch, and pretty soon Kelley was finding that she was always going to be more comfortable with no clothes on when she was around Hope Solo.
“When am I going to see you again?” Kelley asked as she nervously fidgeted with the hem of Hope’s shirt.
“Soon.” Hope said, the mysterious answer was not going to sit with Kelley.
“I need you, again. Like in 2012, but even more so.” The defender admitted quietly. “And if you don’t have a phone, I need you with me.” She started to pull on Hope’s shirt when the woman didn’t answer and her eyes were glued to the road.
“Hope.” Kelley begged for the goalkeeper’s attention. She was starting to become spoiled with how much of it Hope was giving to her.
“Kell.” Hope said softly and with much patience. “You’ll see me again.”
“When?” Kelley pushed.
She watched as Hope turned the wheel and they turned onto a road that Kelley found familiar. A road that made Kelley’s face fall.
“Hopefully before my 38th birthday.” Hope smirked. “By the way you never wished me a happy birthday.”
The defender chuckled. The uneasiness was starting to creep back in as they continued on the road, but Hope had such an influential presence. Her mood was your mood.
“I actually forgot that was why I was here.”
“You were here to recruit me to some silly soccer team.” Hope said with a grin. All jokes aside, Kelley felt her heart sink a little when the car came to a stop, and Hope looked over at her.
“You’re gonna see me before 2019.” Hope offered. She grabbed Kelley’s hand and sweetly kissed the top of it.
“How are you so sure?” Kelley asked, not ready to get out of the car. She knew that life would always remind her that her time with Hope would run out each time. Whether it be a phone call from Ann, a marriage to Jerramy, or Hope’s firing. Real life always stepped in the way.
“I’m number one in this game for a reason.” Hope said matter of factly. Not with swagger, or boastful exaggeration. Hope Solo was beyond having to justify her number one spot years ago.
“You seem so happy being away from it.” Kelley whispered.
“Make no mistake, O’Hara. I am this game, and this game is me. I could never leave it for long.”
Hope watched Kelley slowly accept her words. She watched as the defender reluctantly unbuckled her seatbelt and gave her one last longing look, before the airport worker knocked on Kelley’s window, signaling them to hurry because they were parked in the white zone.
“Way to give me the hint that you want me to leave.” Kelley said with a small smirk that was half true.
Hope kissed her sweetly.
“You have a game in a few days, and probably a whole coaching staff pissed off at you.” She said.
“But I don’t have you.” Kelley sadly pointed out.
“You do.” Hope said it like it was a painful cross to bear knowing that the love of her life didn’t know that. “And when you and I are done with this beautiful game, you will have me for as long as you want.”
The defender looked down at the temporary wedding band around Hope’s finger and gripped it tightly. “Soccer is your number one right now.” Hope said.
“And when it isn’t anymore, you’re gonna find my hands bare, and my heart on your doorstep, but for now,” Hope looked her in the eye, “those games still have to give you life, even if i'm not there. Because yeah I’m not there, but I didn’t leave you. I couldn’t leave you.”
Those words rang in Kelley’s mind as she boarded the plane to Carson. She was ready to take on Japan.